Jeff Loomis: '7-String Is Where It's At For Me'

artist: Jeff Loomis date: 10/30/2012 category: interviews
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Jeff Loomis: '7-String Is Where It's At For Me'
Jeff Loomis, who recently placed 5th position in our Top 10 Guitar Shredders list, had been the guitar player in Nevermore since 1994 but it was time for a change. "It wasn't really moving forward," he explained. "We'd take a couple steps up the ladder and then three steps down and it wasn't working anymore." The Wisconsin native - you can hear the accent peak through from time to time - left Nevermore in 2011 to pursue a solo instrumental career and "Plains Of Oblivion" is what he created. Pushing his Schecter 7-string about as hard as it's ever been pushed, Loomis brings out all his influences from neo-classical to hyper-thrash on an album that combines instrumentals and vocals. He has brought in Christine Rhoades and Ihsahn to sing on three tracks and also gathered together guitar buddies Tony MacAlpine, Chris Poland, Marty Friedman and Attila Voros with whom he does some co-shredding. Produced by Aaron Smith from "7 Horns 7 Eyes", "Plains of Oblivions" makes a huge leap forward from his first solo album "Zero Order Phase" released some four years ago. Compositionally, tonally and riff-wise, Loomis has found his voice as a guitarist and here in a recent conversation he shares his feelings and attitudes about the new album and the world of music. UG: We spoke when you did your first album "Zero Order Phase". You said: "I don't think instrumental music is really that popular." Do you still feel that way? Jeff Loomis: Wow, that's something I still kinda think is true but I think we're seeing a lot more instrumental music from a lot of people today, which is really a super cool thing. Just kinda keeping guitar instrumental music alive such as Animals As Leaders, which is awesome. Another great player by the name of Chimp Spanner [Paul Ortiz] who's out of London I believe; he's doing a lot of cool instrumental stuff and it's still out there. So how did you approach "Plains of Oblivion" that might have been different than what you did on "Zero Order Phase"? I wanted to change things up a little bit and simplify the arrangements and make it a lot more aggressive musically. But I did decide to spin it up a little bit with some vocal songs as well. Just to try to give the listener more of a chance to hear other ideas that I had. I kind of wanted to do the best of both worlds kind of thing on this new record: instrumental and vocal stuff as well just to keep it exciting so that was my theory on the whole thing. Why has it been four years since you last released "Zero Order Phase"? Well what happened was obviously a lot of readers out there know I was in a band called Nevermore for many, many years. We were going on 15 or 16 years or something like that together as a band and that kind of was a huge deal for me and to leave that band was also a huge deal. After being together for so long things just didn't work out anymore and it happens to many bands. You get together for a long time and sometimes a band can be like a marriage because you're on tour with the same bunch of cats forever. But that was really one of the reasons that it took so long. Just because I had other things going on with Nevermore such as records, touring, etcetera. When Nevermore broke up, which was a little more than a year ago, I was sitting around at home going, "What am I gonna do? Am I just gonna sit around and do nothing or am I gonna keep going?"

"I'm very happy with my career right now."

That's when you started thinking about a new solo album? Obviously I chose to stay busy with music because that's what I do and I immediately started writing for "Plains Of Oblivion". That's kinda what I did, man. I just kinda stayed busy and started putting music ideas together and had the idea of getting a lot of guest guitar players on the record as well. I started getting to work at that and I just thought, "Hey, what would be a good idea getting some of my hugest inspirations as I was growing up as a musician on this record." I started sending emails out to Marty Friedman, Chris Poland, Tony MacAlpine and they all obliged to do it so I'm more than happy. Now that you're no longer in Nevermore how do you see the body of work you created with them? Well, boy oh boy, we spent a lot of time together as I said prior and we did a lot of great tours and a lot of great festivals and met a lot of great people. I think every book has its ending so to speak and once one door closes another one will open up for other opportunities. I'm still friends with all the guys and we still talk. Why did you leave? I really wanted to do my own thing and be my own boss so to speak and make my own decisions and it's working out for the better. I'm very happy with my career right now and I'm not sure if those guys are gonna continue on with Nevermore and if they do all the luck to them. But at this point in time I'm doing my own thing and I'm very happy with that. You had worked with Neil Kernon on the "Zero Order Phase" album but on "Plains Of Oblivion" you brought in Aaron Smith to produce. Were you looking to approach the music with a new set of ears? Neil Kernon is obviously a much more seasoned producer. He's been around for a very long time and his roster of bands is incredible with people and bands he's worked with. He's worked with Judas Priest, Queen, Dokken and all these bands that have had a huge impact on guitar and stuff like that. I was just kinda looking for somebody new and I became friends with Aaron because he literally lives right down the street from me. He was coming over and helping me a lot with ProTools sessions because I was kind of new to ProTools and I'm more of an old school guy too sometimes. I was just using a little Tascam 8-track digital recorder and he was like, "Dude, you gotta move up in the world." I ended up purchasing all this studio stuff and he was coming over and helping me with sessions and I'm like listening back to some of the stuff he helped me with and it sounded fantastic. So I'm like, "Would you like to produce my record?" and it was as simple as that. He just said yes and did a great job. He's just a young kid you know what I'm saying? He's done probably five or six projects or something like that but he's very talented and has a great ear and just a great guy to work with. Very patient and had a lot of great input and ideas as well for the record so I would definitely work with the guy again. You brought in Marty Friedman to play on "Mercurial." What is that connection you feel with Marty as a musician? I think moreso than Megadeth it really started off with Cacophony, which was his first band that he did on the Shrapnel label with Jason Becker. At that time in the late '80s I was really, really into the Shrapnel thing and trying to push myself as being a better guitar player every day and every second. A lot of inspiration back then came from listening to those records and I felt a close connection with Marty Friedman and Jason Becker and just loved the way they both played and interlocked with each other. Listening to those guys every day really pushed me as a musician. So gosh man, it's amazing for me to say today that I'm friends with both of those guys. You know what I'm saying? With a simple email that I sent to Marty asking him if he'd do a solo on my record and he said he'd be more than happy to do it. The funny thing is he's so mega-talented and he did it so quickly. With today's technology with him living in Japan and me in Seattle, he literally sent over the solo within a day. It was really incredible and it sounded like he almost did it in one take or something like that. That's how phenomenal he is. I actually played a solo on one of his solo records. I can't even remember the name of it right now off the top of my head ["Future Addict"] but it was for a remake of the song "Burn The Ground." Basically when I was at the NAMM Show two years ago, I just went to the studio he was at and just kinda sat down with him and kinda had a day with Marty Friedman you know. It was really cool. You were never really close friends with Marty Friedman and hung out a lot with him. No, not really. We kind of knew of each other. You mentioned you were friends with Jason Becker? I've met Jason once a long time ago in Chicago but ever since he was diagnosed with ALS I've never gotten the opportunity to go down and visit him but I do plan on doing that. I have definitely kept in touch with him via email and he knows of my playing and I just tell him how much he's really influenced me in my playing. That's really a cool thing that we're connected like that and I think it's really important too. What was it about Marty Friedman and Jason Becker's playing in Cacophony that blew you away? They were definitely doing stuff that was different and especially Marty with his use of Japanese scales and stuff like that. It was really just a whole different sound. It's like back then I was just playing simple scales and stuff I knew how to connect on the fretboard like major and minor stuff and of course the harmonic minor scale, which everybody stole from Yngwie and Uli Roth back in the day. Really with Marty he was using all these very, very cool eastern sounding scales that were very cool sounding and it was combined with metal as well, which really had this different overall sound. What was special about Jason Becker's playing? Jason was kind of like Mr. Technique where Marty was more of the feel guy. Jason had all these insane arpeggios and massive amounts of coolness in his playing. His technique was just overwhelming for the age that he was. You're talking 16 or 17-years old and he was way beyond guitar players that are out there now so it's pretty incredible. You also were listening to the other Shrapnel guitarists? Tony MacAlpine and Vinny Moore and all those players from the '80s I was really, really into. That kinda just influenced the way I play today I guess you could say. Tony MacAlpine plays on "The Ultimatum", which is a pretty insane and beautiful track that has some synths on it? There is, yeah. There's little touches of that stuff here and there on the record and it's not overwhelming in the mix but you could really tell it wasn't there if it was taken out. You know what I mean? It does add a bit of texture to the songs. We ended up using a Plug-In by Spectrasonics called Omnisphere, which is amazing and has a lot of great sounds in it. We used that all over the entire record.

"I could wake up and have a cup of coffee and Aaron would come over and we'd get to work and it was a very, very relaxed atmosphere."

You played keyboards on the "Zero Order Phase" album? I did a lot of keyboard programming but Neil Kernon helped me out with that as well. I don't necessarily play piano or anything like that classically like Tony MacAlpine does. But I do manage to program stuff that sounds cool to my ear. What was that like working with Tony MacAlpine on "The Ultimatum"? I would say that "The Ultimatum" is probably the most neo-classical song on the record. It's moving a lot at a fast pace and there's a lot of arpeggio work going on so I thought it would be a very, very cool song for Tony to play on especially during the middle section breakdown where as you said there is some keyboard stuff there. That gave him a lot of room to really show his skills and his talent. That section really did showcase Tony's playing. Yeah. I didn't send these songs to the guys and say: "Hey, pick out a place you wanna do it." I kind of already had a pre-meditated notion of where I wanted them to play. So I just sent them the individual parts, the 30-second slots or whatever and they just put their stuff in there. Tony did a fantastic job too. Did bringing in these other amazing guitar players force you to step up your own game? Kinda yeah. I ended up redoing some things because I had some lead guitar stuff down and then Chris Poland sent me his ideas and I was like: "Man, I've got to step it up a notch. We gotta redo things in here." It was kinda like a kick in the ass and it was so cool. The funny thing about this whole thing is with these guest players is they each have such an individual style. When you hear it you know it's them and that's the cool thing about it. There's a lot of individuality there and that's one big reason why those three were really chosen because they have such unique styles and it really sticks out. "That's Marty. Oh, that's Chris Poland." Even like Eddie Van Halen you know it's him when you hear him on the radio every single time. Talk about working with Chris Poland on "Continuum Drift." Yeah, that was like speaking to each other through guitar kind of a thing. You know what I'm saying? Very emotional. A lot of times people will ask me what's your trick on writing instrumental music. I guess you could easily say it's kind of a vocal thing but you're speaking with your guitar. It's gotta be expressive and it's gotta be something where people can feel it and that's kinda what I try to do with that is speak with the guitar. A great player that does that beautifully is Jeff Beck. He's the king of that. Jeff Beck can play blues, country, jazz, instrumental and rock. He does it all. I think I really just love the tone he gets from not using a pick of course because he's using his fingers to play. And also his expressive way of using the tremolo bar is amazing and stuff like that. Like he's singing with his instrument, which is a beautiful thing. The chord changes in "Continuum Drift" were pretty complex. Did you try and push yourself as a composer on "Plains Of Oblivion"? I think so. Yeah, of course. I'm always trying to do something different. I think one thing that really helped on this record too was I had a lot of time to do it. The last record was done really fast and it was between a couple of tours when I was still in Nevermore. This one I wasn't even in Nevermore and I basically had all this time to really just focus on the record. And another really positive thing about the record was we recorded it right at my house. So literally I could wake up and have a cup of coffee and Aaron would come over and we'd get to work and it was a very, very relaxed atmosphere. You're not worrying about spending too much money in a studio and hurry up/rush, which can really affect the way a record sounds. I think it was just a great thing to have that whole relaxed atmosphere in my home and record it here. The only thing that we really recorded in a professional studio was the drums and everything else was done at my house and my producer Aaron's house. Drummer Dirk Verbeuren played on the album. What were you looking for in a drummer? Somebody that was incredibly aggressive and a monster. It's funny because Dirk is that guy and I consider him to be the best metal drummer out there. It's funny how that all worked too because he plays in a band called Soilwork, which is a very popular band. It was probably about a year-and-a-half prior to the recording of the record that I saw them on tour and I was talking to Peter Wichers, the guitar player, on their tour bus and I was telling him my idea about recording another record. We were discussing musicians and stuff like that and he's like: "If you need a drummer, here's your guy right here" and he just points over at Dirk. Dirk is very cool except that he's very quiet. When I was on the tour bus that night he didn't really say much. He's one of these amazing talents that's just a quiet guy that kinda just sits back and listens. I looked over and was like: "Wow, you'd really be into that, Dirk?" And he's like: "Oh, yes." So that's kinda how it came to be. I basically wrote all the songs and just started sending him simple arrangements and stuff like that and he just got to work on it. He flew up to Seattle for about four days and got all his drum tracks done in three. So it was quite incredible to watch him do his thing. If you listen to your playing on "Zero Order Phase" versus "Plains of Oblivion", you can hear a difference? It's more focused. One thing I really learned is to back down on the gain quite a bit when you're doing rhythmic stuff. Simply because if you're gonna be quad-tracking your rhythm parts, if you have too much gain it's just gonna sound like crap by the time you get four tracks of rhythm done. Really what we did was we backed down quite a bit on the distortion and gain and I almost had to work for it harder with my right hand. But in the long run you're getting more of this cool breakup with the distortion that's just making it sound a lot more tighter. That's one of the main things I wanted was to just back down on the gain and to play it a little bit more aggressively with my right hand.

"One thing I really learned is to back down on the gain quite a bit when you're doing rhythmic stuff."

When you crank up the gain you can hide a lot of mistakes. Exactly. So we did that and we did a lot of different tests on heads and amps and stuff like that. I've been with Engl for years but I think a lot of musicians in the studio are gonna mess around with different things just because they want to hear a different sound. We had many, many amps to choose from and we actually ended up tracking the whole record or I should say reamping in the long run with the Eddie Van Halen EVH head. That's what we ended up using for the entire thing. What did you like about the EVH head? Very simple: three channels and I believe we used the third channel and just backed down the gain on it and that was our tone. So that's what we used. How do you prepare for a track like "Escape Velocity"? Gosh man, that's a tough question because I do get literally inspired when the red light goes on and sometimes I don't have things worked out completely. But that's where that extra motivation and that extra fire will come from when the record light is on. Something either really crappy or really killer is gonna come out of that. It's kinda like a trial and error kind of thing but for the new record I would say 50 percent worked out and 50 percent improve in a lot of areas. I think to me that's why it sounds really fresh and cool. What was the physical process of recording the tracks for "Escape Velocity"? Usually I try and get the basis of the songs down first with just the general rhythms and find out where the drums are gonna go so it flows nicely like that. There's obviously a lot of elements of thrash music, which I definitely was into like early Testament stuff and stuff like that. So there's a very good basis of a song first and then it kinda builds like a foundation like you build a house. You start adding all these different colors and things just like you would drawing a painting and then it starts to eventually come alive. That's kinda how the whole record was really done just adding all these different colors to it. So once the general foundation of the song was down, I was very, very inspired because it sounded so good at that point that you can't really do any wrong. You can do something and it's gonna be good but then you just start adding and adding and make it into your own thing and that's kinda the way my chemistry worked through this whole entire record. Was the solo in "Escape Velocity" just kind of going for it? Yes, that kinda was. Exactly. So I get in there and I have a general idea of what I wanted to do and where I want to go around the fretboard. But I would make a few mistakes on the first couple of passes but by the third time I knew exactly where I'd want to go and I'd get really aggressive with it and make it mean something. So that's kinda how it works. You've been playing 7-string Schecter guitars for a long time. Can you imagine doing Plains of Oblivion on a normal 6-string guitar? Not rhythmically. I could probably get away with doing a lot of the solo stuff on a 6-string but there's really the low register kind of sound going on rhythmically. The 7-string guitar is something I've been using since 2000 so I'm just really used to playing that kind of guitar. I still own and play 6-strings quite a bit but 7-string is really where it's at for me. It's perfect and I see all these cats out there playing 8- and 9-string guitars. [laughs) It's like I don't knowdon't go too overboard there, guys. But people like to do that stuff. Yeah, 7-string is where it's at for me. It's literally just a low A# that gives you this growl and this purr with the distortion that I really enjoy. Christine Rhoades sang on "Tragedy and Harmony" and "Chosen Time". Is she someone you've known for a while? I have. Christine is basically a Seattle, Washington native and moved to California about 10 years ago but we stayed in touch ever since. She used to do some backing vocals on recordings that Nevermore did on a record called "Dreaming in Black". She always had an amazing voice and I always wanted to work with her. Basically when Nevermore was touring through Los Angeles she came out to a show and I just started discussing with her about writing some songs together. So I think she adds a lot of really cool dynamics to the record, man. She's got a great voice. Did you specifically hear a female voice on those songs? I had my thoughts on that and I was, "Do I really want to do that?" But I just have always really enjoyed her voice. She's just got this really coolwhat's the word I'm looking for? Timber. Timbre. Timbre, yeah, you're right, and I just like that and it really cuts through. So we ended up doing two songs though she actually recorded four songs with me but the other two are going to be released on the Japanese bonus CD they're putting out. What about working with Ihsahn on "Surrender"? What an amazing performance he did. He ended up sending us like these complete orchestrations of vocal stuff that he did. Yeah, the guy is nuts, man, and incredibly talented as well. I think we just really needed something extremely over the top and aggressive for "Surrender". You heard a brutal vocal for that song? Yeah, Aaron and I were just talking about different vocalists and different ideas and somebody that we could get that could really do something crazy. Aaron had mentioned Ihsahn and I was like, "Yeah, that's a great idea." So literally, dude, the same thingI sent him an email and sent him a song and a week later here we go. We had all these ideas from him. I guess he was really inspired by the song and he just worked at it for like three or four days and that's what he came up with. Very dynamic voice, too, and obviously black metal but he's also got the very, very cool singing voice for the chorus. So lots of diversity there. Very cool.

"We were going on 15 or 16 years or something like that together[with Nevermore] as a band and that kind of was a huge deal for me and to leave that band was also a huge deal."

"Requiem For the Living" has Attila Voros on there. Did he actually replace you as the guitarist in Nevermore? No, not really. Basically he played on Warrel Dane's solo album and tour. By watching videos of this guy we were like, "Holy shit, this guy is amazing." He ended up joining Nevermore and was the last Nevermore touring guitarist with me so it was me and him playing guitar together. But yes, Atilla played a solo at the very end of "Requiem For the Living", which I would say is probably the second most neo-classical sounding instrumental kind of vibe on the whole thing. Very Jason Becker-inspired with the arpeggios. Yeah man, that's one of my favorites actually on the whole record. Is there kind of a mid-Eastern vibe going on in "Requiem For the Living"? Yeah, I definitely think so. I think it starts off with the classical thing pretty much with a classical harpsichord kind of vibe on guitar and then it goes very much into a Middle Eastern kind of sitar-y thing [sings the riff]. Pretty cool. That's another really cool thing we did on the record, man. We used a James Tyler Variax guitar. I'm not sure if you're familiar with that? I am not. Yeah, it's basically a modeling guitar and you can get acoustic sounds on this thing and you can get a sitar on it. So we ended up using a sitar quite a bit and I also used an EBow with a sitar sound. You get this almost very violin-y kind of sound and there's textures of that all over the record too. It's just very hard to hear but like I said prior if it wasn't there you would miss it. It's very, very cool and added a lot of interesting little bits through the whole record. "Sybilline Origin" was based on a very cool riff. [Sings the riff] I wanted to come up with a theme where it was very rememberable and that seems to be a lot of people's favorite song on the entire record. Just because it's so heavy but it's got this really cool rock thing over the top. "Rapture" was the acoustic guitar track. Has acoustic guitar always played an important part of your style? I love acoustic guitar. Some of the majority of my writing is usually done on an Ovation. I have this really cheap Celebrity Ovation that's just sitting around the house and I'll pick it up and just jam on it. Lots of my ideas get inspired from that guitar. It's just a fun guitar to play. Then I'll write whole parts and pieces and that kind of was the way that song happened. It's a cool sweeping picking technique with my right hand that just kinda makes it almost sound like a fingerpicking thing but it's actually it's done with a pick. Did you pick up stuff from acoustic guitar players? Growing up, yes. I used to listen to Leo Kottke. Basically my father had a huge, huge record collection so I grew up listening to a lot of '70s music as well. Players like Jeff Lynne from ELO who was way ahead of his time I thought. Classical guitar players as well. Anybody like Bert Jansch or John Renbourn? I haven't, no. Other players I listened to back then were John McLaughlin and Al DiMeola and I love gypsy jazz players as well like Stochello Rosenberg who's amazing. Just stuff like that. Is there anything you can't play on guitar? Was there a particular track from "Plains of Oblivion" that was more difficult for you to pull off? To be honest some of the stuff is kind of demanding to play. We were going to do "Requiem For the Living" on the last tour but it just wasn't falling together properly the way I wanted it to. And really it's more of a practice and a study kind of thing for me. Because it's one thing playing these parts sitting down on a chair but when you're playing the stuff live with a strap [laughs] you gotta really work at that. You could lift your guitar way up with your strap but it just doesn't look very cool. We were able to play it and we pulled it off but it just wasn't to my liking yet. So yes, some of the stuff is very demanding but we're gonna add that song to the set for the next tour. It just kinda pushes you to another level. It's like: "I couldn't play that before but look at me now." It's a matter of practice and putting your time in. It's funny because there's so many kids out there today that just want to play fast right away and you've really got to put your time in, man. You gotta start off slow and work up to tempo and practice with a metronome and that's something I did was I definitely put my time in. Not leaving my room for hours growing up as a kid. But I think I just loved it that much. I didn't do it because I wanted to be better than anybody else. I just really enjoyed playing guitar and it was fun and it still is and that's why I'm still doing it.

"I didn't do it because I wanted to be better than anybody else. I just really enjoyed playing guitar and it was fun and it still is and that's why I'm still doing it."

You bring up an interesting point about younger players learning how to run before they can walk as guitarists. They can play the most insane arpeggio bit like a Paganini piece but then they can't play an AC/DC song. Exactly right. And that whole thing has changed a lot I've noticed in the last 10 years is how people treat each other on the Internet. Those people are just cruel out there and just breaking down these kids. Like: "Ah, you suck. You'll never be anything." The Internet used to be kind of a cool thing as far as a tool and a motivational thing. People are always pushing you to be better or they loved the stuff but now everybody's out to break each other's f---in' bones. It is a strange and nasty phenomenon. It is and I don't think it's really making the music better anyway. People want things quicker as time goes on and that's just the way it is, man. I'm very happy with the era I grew up in and the music I grew up with and just music in general. What type of direction would you pass along to younger players? I think it's very important for the younger generation out there to really be diverse with what they listen to. I've always said to listen to different styles of music and just don't listen to death metal or thrash metal. Listen to some classical music or jazz or whatever. There's so much you can open your mind with with that kind of stuff. Interweave yourself with other musicians at a young age too and get in a band right away. Start talking to other people and don't sit in your bedroom all day and be a bedroom guitar player. Where you gonna get with doing that? Go out into the world and showcase yourself. Definitely practice standing up too because it's very important. It's all about playing live and showing what you can do. Have your Nevermore fans been supporting your instrumental music? I just got off a tour with Periphery and Protest The Hero and I was like: "How is this gonna go?" 'Cause so many people are used to seeing me playing Nevermore with a vocalist and how is this gonna work for me? It was very successful and I was very, very happy with the way the tour went and I'm going out again in about a month. I'm really excited, man, and this whole instrumental thing is a lot of fun and I hope I can do something with it. I don't know how long it's gonna last but at the moment I'm just kind of enjoying myself with it and hopefully in the future I'll do something with a vocalist again and kind of form a new band with that. So I'm kinda taking baby steps at the moment to see where my career is heading basically. Interview by Steven Rosen Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2012
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